The Iraqi security forces have suspended all training in Iraq to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, with many U.S. forces deployed there temporarily relocating to Kuwait to ride out the pandemic, a defense official told VOA on Friday.
A small group of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq as advisers to the security forces, according to the official, who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity.
Operations against Islamic State forces will experience “some impact” but will continue, the defense official said.
Suspension of training
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, said in a news release Friday that the international counter-Islamic State coalition “will retain key military personnel on some Iraqi bases to ensure the government of Iraq and our interests are appropriately supported.”
CENTCOM added that because of Iraq’s suspension of training, the coalition will "temporarily return some of its training-focused forces to their own countries in the coming days and weeks."
It was unclear from the statement which countries within the coalition would be flying forces home. European nations have struggled to contain the spread of COVID-19, and the head of U.S. European Command, General Tod Wolters, told reporters Friday that his U.S. service members accounted for about two-thirds of the confirmed U.S. troop cases worldwide (35 out of 51).
U.S. troops moved
The move of U.S. troops to Kuwait was made because of concerns about force protection, according to a defense official, and it comes as U.S. forces recently have handed over command of three strategic bases to the Iraqi security forces.
Al-Qaim, an outpost near the Iraq-Syria border, along with bases in Kirkuk and Qayyarah, known to U.S. forces as K1 and Q-West, respectively, were recently transferred from U.S. control to Iraqi control, according to officials.
Brigadier General Vincent Barker said Tuesday that the transfer of al-Qaim was a “historic moment” for both the international coalition and their Iraqi partners. Officials told VOA the three transfers were planned well in advance to consolidate coalition forces following success against Islamic State.